John Muir Trail Day 3 – Sunrise Lakes to Tuolomne Meadows. 10.1 mile hike for hunger.

John Muir Trail Hike

I awake at dawn with frost on my sleeping bag. It’s cold out, but my 10 degree sleeping bag kept me toasty warm all night. Soon everyone in camp is awake and we all gather to watch the sunrise over the meadow. The early morning light warms us up as we take down camp, sip on hot coffee and eat our breakfasts.

From camp, we hit the trail and head towards Cathedral Pass, the first of 10 mountain passes Don and I will cross before arriving at the summit of Mt. Whitney 10 days from now.

John Muir Trail Hike
Sunrise over the meadow

It’s a relatively easy climb with no clear sign that we’ve crossed the pass. Kind of a let down to be honest, but I know we will crossing plenty more mountain passes in the coming days, and most of them are said to be spectacular.

John Muir Trail Hike
On the trail, heading towards Cathedral Pass

We stop for a moment at Cathedral Lake and follow the trail down to its edge. The lake is pristine and crystal clear under Cathedral Peak’s magnificent reflection. Mosquitoes and flies begin to swarm, so our stop is quick, but worthwhile.

John Muir Trail Hike
Don making his way around Cathedral Lake

On our hike towards Cathedral Peak we pass a group of pack mules lead by a cowboy, who is a cowboy in every sense of the word. Although passing this group feels like a once in a lifetime experience, Don and I were about to learn that sightings like this are pretty common on the John Muir Trail.

John Muir Trail Hike
A cowboy leading his pack mules towards Sunrise Lakes Campground

At Tuolumne Meadows, Don and I stop at the post office to pick up our first resupply. Good planning paid off. Our resupplies are waiting for us, so we know we’ll have food for the next leg of our hike, at least until we get to Red Meadows four days from now.

We all stop in at the Tuolumne Meadows Grill for a burger and head to the general store to grab a beer. Welcome rewards after 3 days on the trail.

John Muir Trail Hike
Near the top of Cathedral Pass, Matt and Don stop to enjoy the view

After leaving town, we hike back into the forest in search of the backpacker’s camp. People are more than happy to give us vague directions along the way. After a few wrong turns, we finally arrive in camp and find a large site front and center.

A lone backpacker is sitting at the picnic table. His fully loaded backpack rests on the bench next to him.

He’s older, in his late 50s with grey hair and a beard. His clothing and gear are more reminiscent of a homeless person than a backpacker.

He greets us with a smile and gladly hands over property rights. We offer him a beer in exchange for the accommodations, which he quickly accepts. Soon, we’re engaged in a conversation about world financial policies, politics, environmental issues and everything you know you shouldn’t discuss with a stranger.

His name is Alex. He has thru-hiked the John Muir Trail at least 5 times over the years and loves to share his knowledge and experiences through his website It’s an awesome resource, full of valuable information for anyone looking to spend time hiking in the High Sierras. Alex is a bit eccentric, and that’s reflected his website, but that doesn’t change the value of the information he provides.

Don and I set our alarms for 4:30 am before checking out for the night. Tomorrow we hope to get the permits we will need to exit Tuolumne Meadows by way of Donahue Pass.

My meal plan for the day is growing old by now.  Oatmeal with milk and blueberries for breakfast. The burger I eat at Tuolumne Meadows Grill suffices for dinner, an it really is a welcome treat. I am looking forward to a change tomorrow, but I’m not sure my resupply is going to be too accommodating.

Mountain Pass 1/10 – Cathedral Pass (9,703′)


Robb Keele

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